Image Credit: Fred Lum at the Globe and Mail. A vigil held for the lives lost in the Quebec City Mosque

Profiling ‘Lone Wolves’ in Canada and the United States

The concept of ‘lone wolf terrorism’, as we understand in the contemporary, was ‘developed’ by right-wing extremists. Tom Metzger, the leader of the White Aryan Resistance, used the term ‘lone wolf’ infamously during the 1980s-1990s. Furthermore, he advocated that white supremacists should adopt a ‘lone wolf’ or ‘leaderless resistance strategy’ where the supremacists can ‘engage in criminal actions only individually or in small cells to avoid detection by law enforcement.’

Law enforcement professionals and specialised academics alike have reported that lone wolf terrorists are difficult to identify and prevent attacks for the reason that the ‘traditional’ models of profiling do not conform to that of lone wolves. There are certain patterns of behaviour and similarities between lone wolf terrorists that aid in creating a profile of the individual, however, these patterns are often identified after the horrific act is committed. In brief, lone wolf attacks are reported to be undetectable and largely unpredictable.


Examples from Canada and the United States of Lone Wolves

The purpose of this section is to draw from two separate, recent incidents of lone wolf acts of terrorisms in Canada and the United States to identify the similarities in the backgrounds and operations of the perpetrators. It must be mentioned that these incidents were chosen due to their recency in terms of occurrence and criminal prosecution.

1. Patrick Wood Crusius – 3 August 2019, Mass Shooting in El-Paso, Texas, United States
21-year-old Crusius opened fired at a Walmart store on 3 August 2019, killing 22 people in this rampage. It was reported that 19 minutes prior to the emergency call that was made, Crusius had published a ‘manifesto’ online, expressing his anti-immigrant sentiments. After his arrest, Crusius admitted to the authorities that his goal was to ‘kill as many Mexicans’ as possible.

2. Alexandre Bissonnette – 29 January 2017, Shooting in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Canada
On 29 January 2017, the then 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, entered the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Sainte Foy, Quebec, Canada, and opened fired on Muslim men. Bisonnette killed six men, and has been sentenced to at least 40 years in prison. Investigations from Bissonnette’s personal computer revealed evidence of his ‘fascination with anti-immigrant alt-right and conservative commentators, and mass murder.’ Bissonnette also stated his ‘worries’ about Muslim immigration in Quebec.

Though Crusius’ and Bissonnette’s cases are merely two incidents of violence and loss of innocent lives, the similarities in their behaviours and core sentiments are to be examined. In the United States alone, it has been reported that one wolf terrorism is more lethal than organised terrorism. Individuals who are later identified as lone wolves manage to avoid arrest and do not arouse much suspicion because of their similar lifestyle as being isolated and keeping to themselves, while planning their attack alone.

Specialists report that these individuals often suffer a history of personal anguish and personal grievances, further fuelling their justifications and anger leading up to an attack. Modern online spaces, such a popular forums and chat rooms, provide a cyberspace for these individuals to spread their messages of anti-immigration sentiments and other messages of hatred. As seen in the cases of Crusius and Bissonnette, the ‘fear’ of the United States or Canada being ‘overcome’ by Mexicans or Muslims (in their case) was voiced, and was stated by the perpetrators themselves as a motivator for their attack.

As previously mentioned, the identification or prevention of an attack is rendered extremely difficult as there exists no single profile of a lone wolf. In fact, would-be perpetrators exhibit behaviours that are not uncommon to most adolescents or young adults (such as social isolation, signs of depression). Moreover, as lone wolf acts have shown to be conducted by primarily men, it would be unreasonable to expect authorities to be able to identify beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual is a lone wolf terrorist by these slim criterion.


Countering violent extremism: How is a lone wolf stopped prior to action?

Considering the foregoing, at the current stage of profiling and identification of lone wolf terrorists, it is difficult, if not impossible, to detect and halt a lone wolf terrorist attack before it happens. The reason being that lone wolves do not usually discuss their motives or ideas with others, coupled with the fact that their motivation is often only discovered tragically after an attack has happened.

However, this does not mean that there is a lack of sincere effort and measures that can be taken in the prevention of such attacks. Modern day technology plays a significant role in the dissemination of ideas and speech, therefore, there are methods in which potentially dangerous ‘hate speech’ or threats can be identified in chat rooms and reported to authorities for further investigations. It is understood that of course, this sort of monitoring is subject to certain restrictions and limitations as set out in the fundamental human rights related to privacy.

Lone wolf attacks have been reported to be rare, however, when they are carried out, they take with them many innocent lives. They are devastating and scarring to communities. The situation concerning lone wolf attacks, as it currently stands, requires further research into intervention and prevention methods, and would greatly benefit from mutual cooperation between national, international authorities and members of professional societies hailing from a variety of backgrounds.

Image Credit: Fred Lum at the Globe and Mail. A vigil held for the lives lost in the Quebec City Mosque

Extremism Assessment Series: Ku Klux Klan

Image: Blood Drop Cross of the Ku Klux Klan. Common symbol found in public sources.

  • Founded in 1865, the Ku Klux Klan is America’s original hate group.
  • Targets for violence and bigotry include: African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, LGBTQ+, immigrants, and Muslims.
  • No longer one unified organization, the movement is divided into factions and affiliated groups scattered across the United States.
  • The Ku Klux Klan movement witnessed significant decline in recent years due to pressures from far-right movements gaining traction in the United States.

                                                                         Summary of Extremist Narrative

The Ku Klux Klan is America’s original hate group. Commonly referred to as “the Klan”, “KKK”, or the “invisible empire”, the hate group’s ideology involves the promotion of white supremacy and belief in white solidarity. Principally, African-Americans have been the main target of the group, however, others targets for violence and bigotry include: Jews, Catholics, LGBTQ+, immigrants, and more recently, Muslim Americans. The use of violence, intimidation, and hate speech, is widespread among members to silence any opposition to its narrative.

History of the group

The Ku Klux Klan was born during the period of Reconstruction in the South. Originally, the group was founded as a “social club” by six former Confederate army veterans from Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865. However, as the political climate shifted in support of newly freed black slaves, the former “social club” began to embrace terror and extremism in response to the changes. Exploiting fear, and utilizing brutal violence, the original Klan terrorized newly freed black slaves throughout the South, along with whites who opposed them. Outlandish costumes, extrajudicial killings, and cross burnings, all became synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan during this time, thus heightening its reputation. The once small group grew into a movement, stretching nation-wide, gaining considerable political and public support.

In 1871, the federal government enacted the Ku Klux Klan Act, which: “was designed to eliminate extralegal violence and protect the civil and political rights of four million freed slaves”. The movement witnessed significant decline due to this legislation as political and public support faded. The Ku Klux Klan saw a resurgence in popularity in the mid-1920s, and again in the 1960s, this time in response to the civil rights movement. Today, the Ku Klux Klan exists in limited scope and size. No longer one single unified organization, based around a rigid structure or hierarchy; it is now split largely between four main warring factions scattered throughout the United States, with numerous affiliated groups.

Current state of the Ku Klux Klan

Today’s Ku Klux Klan movement lacks unity, structure, cohesion, or purpose. After years of infighting, government interference, waning public/political support, and competition with other white supremist movements, the once powerful organization is now divided and weakened. The four main factions of the movement include: the Brotherhood of Klans (BOK); the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (National Knights); Imperial Klans of America (IKA); and Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK). Numerous Klan-affiliated groups exist outside of the four main factions; all with varying names and ideological influences.

The Ku Klux Klan remains in a state of decline as competition with other white supremist/far-right groups have intensified. Most find the ideology of the Klan outdated, and less appealing; compared to more organized and militant neo-Nazi affiliated groups operating in the United States. Some Klan groups have adopted neo-Nazi beliefs and ideas, attempting to regain relevancy and supporters. Desperation has led others to form partnerships with neo-Nazi affiliates as seen with the “Black and Silver Solution” in 2015. Increasingly more joint events are occurring between Klan and neo-Nazi affiliated groups, providing further confirmation of the Ku Klux Klan’s inability to garner attention on its own.

Ku Klux Klan affiliated groups are predominately involved with hate rhetoric and disorganized violence. Because of the fractious nature of Klan groups today, manpower and financial support are limited. Groups are relegated to low cost options for spreading their hate rhetoric, such as through leafleting campaigns. Following the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, Klan groups left bags of candy throughout neighborhoods across the South. Messages that praised the attack were attached, exploiting the atrocious act committed by Dylann Roof. Typically, leafleting by Klan groups is used to target African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people.

Instances of disorganized violence by current or former Klan members highlight the movement’s continued state of decline. No longer able to mount significant organized attacks like the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, the current model for violence by Klan members tends to be sporadic and disorganized. There often exists a criminal element to the violence separate from Klan related activities, as many current or former members have criminal histories. As shown with the case of Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., who in 2014 went on a murder spree killing three Jewish people in Kansas, instances of disorganized violence inspired by the Ku Klux Klan’s ideology is a significant threat.

Where is the Ku Klux Klan operating?

Ku Klux Klan affiliated groups operate across the United States and beyond. The Counter Extremist Project estimates there are “around 160 known active chapters across 41 states”, with most located throughout the South. The hateful ideology of the Ku Klux Klan is not limited to the United States, we see the movement spreading to countries like Germany as well. In Europe, far-right extremism is on the rise and spreading at an alarming rate. The Ku Klux Klan’s hate filled ideology is easily incorporated into the European far-right narrative.

What are their primary recruitment methods?

The Ku Klux Klan movement relies largely on web-based media, leafleting campaigns, and public rallies, for recruitment of new members. Klan groups will often exploit mass shootings and other attacks committed by far-right actors for recruitment initiatives. Because of the increasing pressure from other white supremist/far-right groups, Klan recruiting is limited.

Pastor Thomas Robb, leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK), hosts a show on his website to attract potential recruits called, “This Is The Klan”. In the past he hosted a YouTube based program called “The Andrew Show”, with the channel name “ShowForWhiteKids”. These efforts are meant to showcase the movement’s technological side, appearing more up to date like other extremist movements.

Leafleting campaigns are used frequently for recruitment as well. Klan groups routinely distribute pamphlets and literature encouraging membership throughout the United States. New recruitment initiatives such as the “National Knight Ride”, incorporate candy with literature, to soften the movement’s image thus attracting more followers. Other leafleting campaigns mimic military style recruitment with catch phrases like “The KKK Wants You!”.

Lastly, public rallies are used to draw supporters in. This method has become somewhat outdated as recent rallies failed to deliver large scale Klan support or public attendance. A recent rally held in May 2019 in Dayton, Ohio drew approximately nine supporters with over 600 counter-protestors in attendance. This ratio of protestor versus counter-protestor is indicative of the Ku Klux Klan movement’s perpetual state of decline throughout the United States.

The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.

13 Hours of Extremism: Domestic Terrorism Across the Political Spectrum Highlights Domestic Extremism Concerns

The two perpetrators of the Dayton, Ohio and El Paso mass shootings. (L) Connor Betts (R) Patrick Crusius. Image Source: Eurweb

Between August 3-4 2019, America was horrified by multiple mass killings across the nation. Dozens were left dead and even more injured. At least one of the events is being actively treated as an act of domestic terrorism, while the other appears to be linked to extremism. Below is a summary of the events, a summary of what is known about the perpetrators, and a summary of potential links between the attacks and societal repercussions of the horrific events.

The following summaries of the incidents and individuals are based on statements made by witnesses and relevant officials.

3 August 2019

Patrick Crusius, age 21, drove upwards of ten hours from his home to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Crusius exited his vehicle and entered the store where he sought to identify his potential targets based on the desire to kill and hurt as many people of Hispanic descent as possible. At the time of Crusius’ pre-attack surveillance, officials stated that there were between 1,000 and 3,000 people inside the Walmart. Crusius exited the store after satisfaction with the potential number of Hispanic victims inside. Just prior to the attack, a manifesto was circulated on digital extremist forums that highlighted anti-immigrant and racist conspiracy theories. The manifesto is posted under a pseudonym, however, it has largely been linked to Crusius. Crusius then prepared for the attack in or around his vehicle in the parking lot before commencing his plan. He was taken into custody near the scene. Twenty-two people have died thus far with dozens more injured.

4 August 2019

Connor Betts, age 24, appeared to have been active on social media on 3 August 2019. Earlier in the day, on the Twitter account associated with Betts, there was a retweet that called for Joe Biden to “Hurry up and Die”. In the wake of the news breaking about the attack in El Paso, the Twitter account “liked” several tweets that pertained to the attack. On the morning of 4 August 2019, Betts approached a popular bar in Dayton, Ohio, and began to open fire with a rifle. Law Enforcement was quick to respond, killing Betts on scene, but only after Betts managed to kill at least 9 people and injure dozens more. As of this writing, no manifesto or any communication of intent of the attack has been discovered. Prior to Betts’ Twitter account being taken down, it was discovered that Betts often commented support for various left-wing movements, stating his support for Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders. There was at least one retweet in favor of an account linked to the far-left ANTIFA extremist group.

What Do We Know About the Perpetrators?

 Patrick Crusius

Few people from Crusius’ personal life have come forward since the attack, therefore less is known about him. However, Crusius appears willing to speak with law enforcement following his arrest, and the manifesto that has been linked to him is telling. Crusius admitted to law enforcement officials that he purposefully targeted Hispanics in his attack. In the manifesto, a sociological/political theory known as “The Great Replacement Theory” is discussed, which is essentially an anti-immigrant ideology that calls for the separation of races. It has been linked to white supremacist attacks internationally and has at least a marginal following amongst white supremacist groups worldwide. Accounts have been discovered on extremist forums that are believed to belong to Crusius. A LinkedIn account believed to have belonged to Crusius shows that he had been unemployed for at least the last five months. The account, which has been taken down, stated that Crusius was largely uninterested in a career but was interested in computer software, as he stated that he spent most of his days on a computer anyway. It was not immediately clear if Crusius had any education after high school, and his economic and social life was not apparent.

Connor Betts

Multiple people have come forward who reportedly knew Betts, most painting an image of a dangerous individual. It has been reported that Betts had been suspended from high school at least once in reference to possession (and believed production) of a “hit list” and “rape list”. Betts was a musician and had at least some college education. He was a self-described “leftist” and “atheist”, but was described by peers as a loner and outcast. Multiple sources have reported that Betts had an obsession with mass shootings for some years. A female has come out and stated that she was dating Betts, but had broken up with him in May of 2019 over his concerning behavior. It is not clear if Betts was working at this time and his economic situation is unclear.

Potential Link Between the Attacks in El Paso and Dayton

As was mentioned earlier, a Twitter account linked to Betts ‘liked’ several tweets in regard to the El Paso attack, just hours before launching his own attack in Dayton. The attack in El Paso was rumored to be inspired by white supremacist ideology relatively quickly after the news broke and was subsequently confirmed as more information came out throughout the night. It is possible that Betts was inspired to launch an attack in furtherance of far-left extremism in response to the far-right attack in El Paso. That being said, it is unclear whether the attack in Dayton was pre-planned. As had been reported, Betts was obsessed with mass shootings for some time, however, his online links to the far-left cannot be ignored. His apparent following of the events in El Paso potentially link the two attacks as a form of tit-for-tat extremism between individuals on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Online Extremism: A Domestic Issue

 Both Crusius and Betts were active, at least in part, in online communications with extremist accounts or forums. Crusius has been linked to the publication of the Manifesto as discussed above and has been connected to profiles in extremist forums on websites such as “8chan”. Betts’ link to online extremism has been less clearly defined, but on at least one occasion he was connected to an ANTIFA account and shared a message in furtherance of the group.

While it is too early in the investigation to begin making definitive judgements about the level of influence such digital extremism had on either Crusius and Betts, it is clear that there is a connection between their actions and the extremist rhetoric that they consumed.

Preliminary Recommendations

 It is too early for exact political and/or policy recommendations to be relevant. Both investigations remain active. However, as the attacks appear to be linked to the far end of both sides of the linear political spectrum, adding more rhetoric in an attempt to further politicize the event may serve to further radicalize individuals with like-minded ideas. People of influence on either side of the political spectrum should consider this when crafting their messaging to avoid further influence for extremism.

Digital extremism communications represent a real challenge for policymakers. Preventing the free exchange of ideas is fundamentally against the ideals of the United States, however, as events such as the ones discussed above demonstrate the potential dangers associated with the ideal. It is recommended, that any ‘red flag’ laws that are implemented should expressly allow for the admittance of online forum discussions in consideration of individual cases. Domestic law enforcement agencies must also develop capabilities for monitoring such forums that are linked to extremist ideologies. Intelligence-led policing must be brought to the forefront of the discussion as the leading chance for preventing domestic terrorism events.

John Patrick Wilson is the Director of the Domestic Counter-Terrorism Program at Rise to Peace with experience in law enforcement, political research, and counter-violent extremism research. 

Special Report: Countering neo-Nazi Ideology in the United States: Waging a War of Information

Download (PDF, 1.11MB)

In the report Countering neo-Nazi Ideology in the United States: Waging a War of Information, Director of the Domestic Counter-Terrorism Program John Patrick Wilson and Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow Caitlyn Ryan offer in-depth analysis of the neo-Nazi movement. This broad endeavor covers many important topics required to understand neo-Nazism in the US and methods to offset it going forward. Please click the above link to view the publication in its entirety.

Why The United States Needs to Reform Counter-Terrorism Efforts on the Home Front

Since the September 11th attacks on the United States, many believe that the biggest threat to the United States is from foreign jihadists.  Media outlets constantly associate terrorism with foreign jihadist organizations such as ISIL or Al-Qaeda; however, they fail to give adequate attention or coverage to extremist incidents that occur directly on our own soil.

Today, the largest threat facing the United States does not comes from foreign jihadist extremists.  Instead, the largest threat to the United States appears to be the rapidly growing threat of domestic violent extremism. Domestic extremism includes homegrown radical Islamist terrorism, right- and left-wing extremism, white supremacist and neo-Nazi extremism, and more.  The domestic extremism threat facing our nation today has essentially evolved over time into two major issues that have gone unaddressed by policy makers. First, overseas terrorist organizations have become increasingly adaptable and now use online platforms to recruit vulnerable individuals across the country in order to incite violence.  Second, the rise in hate crimes and right-wing extremist events over the past decade has occurred at an alarming rate, and has been disregarded by many public officials and policy makers.

The Recruitment of Jihadi-Motivated Extremists in the US

With the availability of new technologies, foreign terrorist organizations no longer need to infiltrate foreign states to attempt attacks of their own.  Now, organizations have the capability to recruit, motivate, and initiate attacks online with false messages and propaganda. The rise in Islamophobia has led many to believe that individuals who have conducted such lone-wolf attacks are Muslim or Arab. However, this has not always been the case.  According to a study by the RAND Corporation, “the historic stereotype that Muslim, Arab, immigrant males are most vulnerable to extremism is not true to today.  Today, recruits in the United States are more likely to be white, black, younger, uneducated, and born citizens.”  New America’s study on Terrorism After September 11th explains how since 2001, the number of domestic jihadist terrorism cases

has risen dramatically, from only two individuals being charged in 2001 to a record high of eighty being charged in 2015.  The study also reiterates the trend that the majority of the individuals being charged with a lethal extremist attack have been American-born citizens; in fact, according to the study, eighty-five percent of individuals charged with a lethal attack in the United States have been citizens or legal residents.  Of this percentage, a majority (two hundred and twenty nine) of terrorism cases have involved American-born citizens. Ninety-nine of the cases have involved naturalized citizens, and fifty-five of the cases have involved permanent residents.  Only five cases have involved illegal immigrants, nineteen cases involved refugees or asylum seekers, and twenty-five cases involved non-residents of unknown status. The majority of domestic terrorists are now everyday American citizens and residents who have been inspired by the jihadist movement abroad to take action against the secular West.  As Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who joined Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, famously stated, jihad today has become “American as Apple Pie.”

The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism

Jihadi-extremism, while mainly homegrown, now makes up only a small portion of the attacks occurring on American soil.  Throughout the last decade, right-wing extremist attacks have risen at an alarming rate.  Right-wing extremism includes white supremacy, anti-government extremism, and single-issue movements such as anti-abortion, anti-immigration, and anti-Muslim extremism. While the United States has remained focused on the danger posed by jihadi extremism, there has been a “glaring blind spot” towards the changing dynamic and magnitude of threats facing the United States.  According to statistics from the Anti-Defamation League, between 2009 and 2018, 73.3 percent of domestic extremism incidents in the United States were due to right-wing extremism, while only 23.4 percent of incidents were due to jihadist extremism and 3.2 percent were due to left-wing extremism.  Furthermore, the rate at which the incidents are increasing is dangerously rapid.  In 2018, of the 50 extremist-related murders that occurred, right-wing extremists caused almost all incidents.  In fact, right-wing extremists caused 98 percent of the incidents, while only 2 percent of the incidents were caused by domestic Islamic extremism.  According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, individuals targeted for the recruitment of right-wing terrorism are often one of three categories: “frustrated and angry youth looking for solutions to their problems; individuals looking for intimate relationships outside of their families; and younger adolescents who typically lacked maturity and may have been unable to fully comprehend the ramifications of the groups radical ideology.”

Policy Recommendations

  1. Politicians and policy makers need to make reducing domestic extremism a national security priority.

Domestic extremism needs to be recognized as a major threat.  In the past decade, it has largely been ignored and pushed aside by policy makers and politicians, who have been putting a disproportionate amount of attention on the foreign threat of jihadi terrorism.  Domestic terrorism needs to be made a federal crime by Congress.

  1. Seek to increase community awareness about the dangers of all forms of terrorist recruitment, especially in the populations that are deemed to be most vulnerable.

Community awareness programs should partner with the Department of Education in order to educate children, teachers, parents, and guardians about the dangers of terrorist recruitment.  The programs should specify the different types of extremism in the United States, the way groups attempt to recruit individuals, and the risks and consequences associated with being involved with such organizations.

  1. Promote anti-bias intercultural education and after-school programs in elementary and secondary schools.

Education can be the most proactive measure to counter youth radicalization.  With the average profile of radicalized individuals being young and uneducated, it is most important to promote educational programs in schools to counter the radicalization and recruitment of young individuals who feel frustrated, angry, and alone.  After-school programs should especially be promoted as a way to offer a sense of belonging, community, family, and purpose for individuals who are particularly vulnerable.

  1. Reframe the Countering-Violent Extremism Program, and reassess how to properly distribute CVE resources.

The CVE program does not just need a new name, it needs to be completely reframed.  As of right now, the program has been largely targeted at countering jihadi extremism in the United States, and has cut funding for programs that counter other forms of extremism.  Muslim communities have been targeted by the current CVE programs while young black, white and uneducated individuals have become more and more vulnerable to being recruited by different forms of domestic extremism.  Funding for grants and research needs to be expanded in order to combat all the different forms of extremism in the United States.

  1. Make an honest and prioritized effort to countering the ideology of hate.

The United States government must make countering hateful ideologies and extremist groups a top-priority. Politicians have continuously failed to punish right-wing extremist groups for their actions, sending a confusing message about what is constituted as terrorism and when it is considered acceptable to use such violence in the United States.   Continuously cutting funding for research grants and for countering right-wing extremism programs has also enabled such issues to escalate in the United States. To stop such incidents from occurring again, changes must be made.